Thursday, September 3, 2015

Expectations: Eagles' O-line and tight ends

Leading up to Sunday, I will go position-by-position and player-by-player to preview what could be in store for all 53 members of the current Philadelphia Eagles. Click here for the breakdown of the running backs, here for the linebackers here for the wide receivers here for the defensive line and here for the defensive backs. Moving on to the offensive line and tight ends...

Expectations: Eagles' O-line and tight ends

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Eagles left guard Evan Mathis is getting the chance he´s been waiting for (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images).
Eagles left guard Evan Mathis is getting the chance he's been waiting for (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images).

Leading up to Sunday, I will go position-by-position and player-by-player to preview what could be in store for all 53 members of the current Philadelphia Eagles. Click here for the breakdown of the running backs, here for the linebackers  here for the wide receivers here for the defensive line and here for the defensive backs. Moving on to the offensive line and tight ends...

Jason Peters - It seems that many can't get past the penalties with Peters, so let's start there. He had seven penalties for 50 yards last year, according to Football Outsiders. Not really a bad number. Thirty offensive tackles had more penalties than Peters in 2010, per Pro Football Focus. The truth is Peters played like a legitimate Pro Bowler last year and is clearly the Eagles' best offensive lineman.

He's excellent in pass protection, and Peters and Todd Herremans cleared the way for LeSean McCoy on several occasions last year, as the Eagles' running back averaged 5.8 yards per carry to the left side.

Look for another solid year out of Peters in 2011.

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Evan Mathis - He's one of the more intriguing players to watch on this Eagles team. No, really. I know left guard isn't exactly the most exciting position, but Mathis has been waiting for this opportunity. He's bounced around to four teams (Carolina, Miami, Cincinnati, Philadelphia) since the Panthers took him in the third round of the 2005 draft.

Mathis has started 22 career games, but it seems clear he feels he should have started many more. And that's precisely why he chose to come to Philadelphia. To play for Howard Mudd and to have a shot at a starting spot. Remember, Mathis signed a one-year deal and turns 30 in November. In other words, he has a lot riding on this opportunity.

Jason Kelce - I remember first noticing Kelce running with the starters at Lehigh. I didn't make much of it. After all, Mudd was shuffling different offensive linemen in and out on a daily basis. Want proof? Look no further than when Fenuki Tupou was running at right tackle with the ones.

But Kelce stuck. Looking back, it's clear he's the guy Mudd wanted all along. Jackson played well and stayed healthy - both at camp and in the preseason, but it really didn't matter. Unless Kelce was a disaster, he was going to be the starting center.

And while he struggled against Pittsburgh, Kelce did enough to impress the coaching staff. My guess is he'd have to play very poorly over the course of a couple games to get benched. But we just have to wait and see what happens Sunday.

Kyle DeVan - By all accounts, the new starting right guard seems confident that he'll be fine on Sunday. But consider me skeptical. As I mentioned earlier this week, blocking for Peyton Manning is just not the same as blocking for Michael Vick, and there should be concern that DeVan was unemployed at this time last week. Of course, if he plays well, he'll keep the job. But I'm not ready to predict that's going to be the case just yet.

Todd Herremans - He played well last year at left guard - not quite at a Pro Bowl level, but Herremans was the Eagles' second-best lineman in 2010, behind Peters. He'll now line up at right tackle for the first time Sunday, in charge of protecting Vick's blind side. I know I keep saying this, but all we can do is wait and see how he does.

Jamaal Jackson - I'm not quite sure how Jackson fits in. Last year, it was common for the Eagles to go with two reserve linemen - one tackle and one on the interior. But I'm guessing they'll probably go with three on Sunday. What we don't know is how confident the Eagles would be playing Jackson at guard. Obviously he'll back up Kelce at center.

Jackson has to be frustrated. The previous two seasons ended with injuries, and now he's 31. I can't imagine there are 32 centers better than Jackson around the NFL. But he's signed through 2013 and will likely have to wait until next season, at least, to consistently get on the field (unless the Birds shake things up once again, which is always a possibility).

Danny Watkins - The first-round pick has had a rough go, but my guess is it'll click at some point, and he'll regain the starting job from DeVan. Will Watkins dress in Week 1? It's not a sure bet. If the Eagles stick with two linemen and are confident Jackson can play guard, Watkins could be inactive. But if he is one of the reserves, Watkins will continue the learning process from the sidelines.

King Dunlap - He couldn't hold on to the starting job, but give Dunlap credit for hanging on as a backup. Only the Eagles know how healthy Winston Justice is, but my guess is Dunlap would be the replacement if Peters or Herremans were to go down Sunday.

Winston Justice - He surprised some by making the 53-man roster and not remaining on the PUP list, but we still don't know how healthy Justice is. Once he's ready to get back on the field, Justice will probably overtake Dunlap as the primary backup tackle. Until then, he'll be inactive.

Julain Vandervelde - He looked pretty good in the preseason, but Vandervelde will almost certainly be a regular inactive. He could battle for a backup or even a starting spot in 2012.

Brent Celek - I took a detailed look at Celek's 2010 in a post last month. He was used more as a blocker, but even when Celek went out into his pass routes, Vick didn't throw the ball in his direction as much. Celek's drops didn't help either.

Given the uncertainty on the offensive line, Celek will likely stay in to block quite a bit again in 2011, at least in the beginning of the season. The one area where the Eagles could use him is the red zone. Celek had just four catches for 16 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the red zone last season. In 2009, he had 10 catches for 86 yards and six scores inside the opponents' 20.

Clay Harbor - By the middle of last season, Harbor had shown the coaches enough to warrant making him the second tight end. He looked like he's improved as a blocker in the preseason, but I'm not sure how much Harbor will get on the field in 2011.

According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles went with two tight ends on just 16 percent of their plays last year. Only two teams did so less often. And now the Birds have added Steve Smith, which could mean more four-receiver sets. Unless Celek goes down, Harbor doesn't figure to have much of an offensive role.


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Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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